A US Army general accused of sexual assault and illicit sexual relationships with junior female officers was spared prison on Thursday, a sentence critics denounced as a failure of the US military justice system.
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, 51, was only reprimanded and deducted $20,000 from his $145,000 a year salary despite the serious charges — a punishment legal experts, female rights activists and members of Congress condemned as outrageously light.
Sinclair is believed to be the highest-ranking US military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges punishable by up to life in prison.
Last week, prosecutors agreed to drop the sexual-assault charges after the general decided to plead guilty to the lesser charges of adultery and conducting inappropriate relationships.
The case unfolded amid an epidemic of rape and other sexual misconduct in the US military which has put the Pentagon under heavy pressure to confront the crisis.
Experts of military justice said the sentence, which was handed down by Colonel James Pohl, a military judge, proved the US armed forces still tolerate sexual misconduct in their ranks despite the pressure to curb it.
“He made out like a bandit,” said Eugene Fidell, a professor of military justice at Yale Law School. “This is a baffling denouement to a disturbing case.”
“I can’t believe it,” said retired Lt. Col. Gary D. Solis, a former military judge who now teaches law at West Point and Georgetown University. Solis said Sinclair “is an individual who should not be a general officer. He should have gone to jail and dismissed from the Army.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier called the sentence “a mockery of military justice.”
“Even when the world is watching, the military has demonstrated their incompetence at meting out justice,” Speier said in a statement.
“This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is. This sentence is a mockery of military justice, a slap on the wrist nowhere close to being proportional to Sinclair’s offenses,” she added.
About 26,000 incidents of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact were reported in 2012 alone, according to a Pentagon study.